Guangzhou is a funny place for weather... it's called the city of flowers (花城) because it has flowers blooming all year round. The sub-tropical weather means it really only has two noticeable seasons - spring and summer. This year, summer finally ended on 18th November. Why so clearly on this day? Well it was 25 degrees Celsius in the afternoon and we were in our shorts. By evening it was 13 degrees Celsius and been so since, give or take a few degrees. Technically it is not that cold, especially considering my birthplace of Scotland. It is, however, comparatively cold for Guangzhou, especially when we were all complaining it was too hot and using electric fans just last week.
Like most of Guangzhou, our home and shop has no central heating. Actually, it doesn't have heating of any sort. Enjoying a nice fresh sheng Puer becomes a lot more difficult in this season as the local climate affects the body in a way that doesn't go so well with many sheng puers. This is when the black teas, old Pu and ripe Pu gets a good run on our taste buds. Note that if we were back in Yiwu or Xishuangbanna, we'd be more than okay for drinking fresh puer.
Ripe Puer and Chen Pi (ripened, aged Citrus Peel) are a match made specifically for soothing the throat, stomach and warming the body. Unlike, the currently more fashionable green citrus peel (小青柑) that has been recently popularized as a summer drink, aged citrus peel and ripe Puer has been an available blend for a very long time - so much so that you can find very old/mature variations with other citrus-like fruits, like the grapefruit pictured below, and yes, they are huge!
The most famous peel, due to the quality of their (inedible) fruit, is the matured Citrus peel from Xinhui area near Guangzhou. We've been buying a very small amount of high-quality Chenpi every year for our Chinese medicinal purposes and our oldest batch is already six years mature and has a wonderful aged citrus aroma. Also, our 'recently' produced 2016 Yiwu Gushu Ripe is also maturing nicely which makes for an interesting blending conversation.
Many people who produce Citrus Ripe Puer normally use ripened plantation material Puer, gong ting grade leaf. The leaf is easier to process in the fruit and is generally a lot more mellow too. Any remaining wodui aroma can be somewhat masked by the citrus peel, depending on the quality of the peel. This means that most of the cost price is in the quality of the peel rather than the tea...
As it's been difficult to source a quality blend, this year, for the first time ever, we've blended a test batch of our own loose-leaf ripe puer with our own six-year old Citrus peel cuttings - no fruit stuffing involved. We blended the tea back in October and over the last few days, we tried the variations of the blends of ripe 'tea chunks' (茶头) and 'gongting' grade to check the initial results.
So, with only a few days storage in this test batch, we expect that next year's taste test will certainly be more interesting. If successful, we hope to put a larger Yiwu ripe + high-grade Chenpi production together to sell to the market - it won't be cheap but our initial taste test says it'll very likely be worth it.
Drinking home-blend Chenpi Puer - Gong ting grade
We do a double flash rinse to get things started. The first few steeps gave a rich, creamy, sweet liquor with thick mouth feel and long-lasting huigan. There was very little wodui aroma before the citrus was added so the aroma of the aged citrus peel is clear although masks some of the more pleasant tea aromas that lurk underneath for the more discerning nose.
By the fifth steep, the Citrus flavour comes out more, leaving a cleaner, light acidity on the tongue and inside of the cheeks. This becomes clearer to notice as we drink the next few steeps but it's never over-powering. These steeps have an excellent balance of thick, creamy liquor that has a nice clean, sweet finish. This feeling extends to the stomach and slowly warms the whole body too.
Around the twelfth steep, the gong ting leaf starts to fade. This highlights the sweetness of the blend, the light, zesty aroma, and the cleansing feeling. The cha qi is refreshing which compliments from the citrus notes. The aroma of the chenpi is deeper now and it's an interesting transition point. Before we were drinking more of the puer earthy, woody notes but now the balance is more towards the chenpi, but never overpowering either way. Recalling a few of the green citrus puers we tried recently, this was a lot more mellow and comforting. It really goes to show that good selection of ingredients goes a long way.
Comparing the Cha Tou (next day)
We start this session with three flash rinses, hopefully waking up enough of the chatou and chenpi to taste on the first steep. However, the first steep was still very light, sweet, fragrant but a tad light and needed a bit more steeping time. We adjusted for the second steep was much better with oily, syrupy liquor with fragrant citrus aroma notes. The big chunks of tea seem to release flavour and nutrients at a more similar rate to the chenpi.
With the next few steeps, each slightly longer than our normal flash steeping, we get a full-flavoured, thick and comforting tea soup. The same warm and refreshing feeling as before. The chatou lasted a lot longer than the gong ting - the flavour balance was more matched throughout. The soup has a more oily feeling and the combination makes me remember Terry's chocolate orange - or is that a Christmas memory affecting me?
During these taste sessions, we encountered several problems. The first was that the mature Chenpi, even when cut or broken into small pieces, released flavour very slowly over a long period. As a result, our first attempts at blending had too little Chenpi which didn't emphasize the citrus notes enough. Another of our issues here is that the tea, especially Chatou, generally needs more time to absorb the aroma and flavour of the chenpi so the balance of flavour isn't as deep as it could be. Finally, we were using Gongfu style brewing with flash pre-rinse - I suspect that this type of blend will vary a lot with different brewing methods. Grandfather brewing a small amount in a thermos may turn out to be the best way to enjoy this winter cup.
Overall, this is certainly a tea drink that will help keep us warm through the wet winter. I highly recommend this to anyone who lives in cold, humid places. If you don't want to wait until next year for our full-production, we have a few 50g samples on offer ($23 each) pictured below. Available on request only, since we only have a few pieces of the six-year mature Chenpi remaining.
Thanks for reading and stay warm and stay tuned for more from us this winter.