I’ve known Wang Yanxin since long before Verdant Tea existed. I had the privilege to meet her right when she was getting started in pu’er back in 2006 when I was still a student at Qingdao University. When pu’er was going through its crazy speculative bubbles and the market was wild, Wang Yanxin was out in Banzhang, Yiwu, Wuliang and all across XIshuangbanna meeting farmers, and forging relationships with smaller niche workshops instead of following the trends and selling the biggest brands.
With almost twenty years of relationship building and field work under her belt, and over a decade to acquire and age pu’ers from all across Yunnan, Wang Yanxin knows what makes for good tea. She has a fantastic eye for spotting teas with incredible aging potential.
How did she come to have her diverse collection featured at Verdant? She was actually my first mentor in the world of pu’er helping me learn about taste, texture and aroma, introducing me to countless teas for the first time. As we’ve forged connections with farmers like Master Zhou and the Li Family in Qianjiazhai, Wang Yanxin has strengthened her own partnerships over the years. In recognition of our shared goals and aesthetic, every few years, Wang Yanxin releases a cache of treasures from her personal reserve for us to share.
In celebration of the Year of the Pig, Wang Yanxin has bolstered her collection with over twenty one-time-opportunity offerings that we are excited to be tasting and sharing. WIth so many new pu’ers to choose from, it seems fitting that Wang Yanxin’s collection should come with a cheat sheet buyers guide to help make the decision of how to build your pu’er collection less daunting.
The big question in the world of pu’er is always going to be sheng or shu. These two categories have inspired their own camps of devotees. In truth, both sheng and shu pu’er have their strengths, and both are perfect for different occasions.
The original – sheng pu’er is made with sun-withered and occasionally wok-fired leaf, aged loose for some period of time before lightly steaming and pressing into a cake, ball, brick, etc. It ages relatively slowly, going from big green sweet flavors in its youth to deep dark foresty profiles after ten or more years.
What makes sheng pu’er special?
Good sheng pu’er can be sweet and creamy in its youth, making it a great way to get into pu’er., but if you age it, sheng pu’er changes more quickly and more dramatically over time than shu pu’er does. Because it has so much time to age and develop, sheng pu’er is also capable of deeper complexity over time.
Starting with Sheng Pu’er, Wang Yanxin has several single-origin cakes with a good five years of age a piece. Yiwu, Banzhang and Bingdao are three of the most famous regions for pu’er in China, each with their own distinctive profile.
Yiwu is all about rich foresty complexity. If you love the way a tea can transport you to a place, Yiwu is the way to go. You’ll get tons of woody notes and great spice in the texture. Yiwu sheng tends to age towards big tingling almost numbing powerful aftertaste.
Bingdao is a texture tea. This is for you if big cooling cedar and camphor appeal. Pair that cooling sensation with sparkling minerality and a big overarching sweetness and you’ve got a great Bingdao pu’er.
Banzhang is the most flavor-forward of the three regions with big nutty sweet notes. Banzhangs are bold and unruly in their youth and age into unbelievably sweet, rich and lingering teas full of elegance and poise over many years. Plus, they have an iconic only-from-Banzhang kind of numbing sensation like Sichuan peppercorn that is a real thrill.
Don’t miss the 2005 Yongming Sheng Pu’er while it is in stock. For less cash than it younger counterparts, this blended sheng is a great example of the way that sparkling minerality and cooling sensations can build up over the years.
This newer type of pu’er was developed to try to speed up the fermentation effects of sheng pu’er that play out in a span of decades by introducing more moisture to speed the process up to just several months. The result is a tea that already has earthy sweet aged flavor even right after pressing.
What makes it special? Some people find shu pu’er to be more mild and balanced in terms of energy and caffeine. Perhaps this is because shu pu’er is ready to drink – already crafted for ideal taste profile without having to wait an extra decade. Shu Pu’er flavor profiles often have lots of sweet dessert-like notes of chocolate, caramel, etc.
Wang Yanxin’s new shu pu’er collection is enormous. Where to begin?
Roughly, I’d map out shu pu’er territory into some big flavor “kingdoms.” There is the cooling foresty shu pu’er, the fruity bright shu pu’er and the more savory and sweet shu pu’er. The best way to start exploring the collection is to think about what kinds of flavors really call to and how you like to enjoy your shu pu’er
The cooling foresty shu pu’ers are texturally rich, spiced, and meant for sipping to get rejuvenated for a new day in the morning or for social tasting due to their complexity.
The brighter fruitier shu can be refreshing, juicy and almost sparkling. It feels well suited to early afternoon, and performs equally well in a mug as it does in a gaiwan.
The sweet and savory shu pu’ers are all about smooth rich soft texture, and exemplify shu pu’er tea’s use as a comforting tea in the evening or any time you want to “reset.” These teas tend to be very bud-focused for the texture and thickness that buds bring to a blend.
Top three picks for unbridled cooling, foresty goodness:
How often do you get a chance to pick up 90’s pu’er? Wang Yanxin was generous to share this one with us, and the age brings not only deep incense, cedar and cooling eucalyptus to the cup, but also subtle floral complexity. There are only a few left, so if this one is gone by the time you get to it…
This takes the best of cooling camphory goodness and pairs it with a savory sticky rice undertone. With well over a decade of age, this has come into its prime as a real complex and thrilling tea to taste when you have time to enjoy everything it has to offer.
Here’s a chance to get into pu’er collecting without having to commit to a huge quantity of tea. The 2006 Dali Nanjiang Shu is full of cooling minerality, foresty pine, and that sweet sticky rice undertone. You really can’t go wrong
Top two picks for bright, fruity, refreshing pu’er:
Tiandiren is well known for their sweet elderberry profile that comes from their careful blending of big leaf material with buds. This cake is packed full of elderberry and raisin, but stays light and refreshing from a mineral sparkle, all with a brown sugar aftertaste.
Now here’s an interesting cross-category tea. This cake has the brightness and focus of a fruity shu but with the smoldering spice and texture of a dark aged foresty shu. The best of both worlds!
Top three picks for sweet soothing brews:
Caramel, vanilla and cinnamon – classic dessrt pu’er at its best. You just can’t go wrong with this beautiful blend, all in a more approachable 250g size.
This tea goes for balance above all else, making it well suited as a relaxing, comforting brew. It has the savory sweet goodness of semolina, but tempers it with light cooling notes, fruity blackberry, and aromatic rosewood. If you want a tea that checks every box, this is the one!
You’ve got to love the enormous format. You’ll certainly impress guests when you pull out a full kilo brick when it is time to serve tea. This blend from Yongming is packed with sweet cinnamon and nutmeg spice, and sweet barley – well balanced for a soothing brew.
This should be some good direction on where to start with Wang Yanxin’s 2019 collection!
Want even more in-depth brew-by-brew notes? Join our Daily Deal Tasting Journal mailing list for focused tastings and deep discounts every few days. We’ve been tasting through Wang Yanxin’s collection over the last few weeks, and you can look forward to in-depth and more informal behind-the-scenes tasting journals of teas (new and old!) from each of our partners’ collection.
Wondering what the next step should be in your pu’er journey?
Taste Qianjiazhai Pu’er! Wild-foraged by the Dongsa Cooperative in one of the oldest most remote tea forests in the world, their tea is absolutely singular, from deep rich shu to sweet incense-spiced sheng.
Thanks so much for reading!
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