Have gaiwan, will steep! And that’s just what happened recently with some Summit brand Jinggu 2011 Spring Purple Bud (紫芽) Raw Pu-erh Tea I had on hand. When it’s a great tea like this, my gaiwan can’t resist! Time to tell you a bit more about the history of this tea, though, and then on with infusing that tea.
This tea is a “single mountain” tea, meaning that the leaves come from the tea trees on one particular mountain. In this case, it is from tea trees (a rare variety of the Yunnan large-leaf tea trees, famous for high health benefits, high percentage of anthocyanidins, and amino acids, particularly tea polyphenols) around Wenshan village (文山) in Jinggu (景谷) county, Yunnan province, China. The altitude is over 2,000 meters above sea level, and at this time there is no drivable road and the Summit tea team walks 3 hours or so to the village. These old-arbor, big-tree pu-erh teas originating from a single mountain are rare, and there are lots of false claims out there where the teas are actually blends (a small amount of the old leaves in with a lot of other leaves) using the Zijuan (紫娟) or Zicha (紫茶 purple tea) máochá. One reason is that the spring yield of these teas is tea is extremely low, (purple bud is around 50 kgs), and not all of it is suitable. The other reason is to keep the cost of the tea down to a reasonable level. This tea is processed as máochá by the tea farmers and then pressed by the Summit team using traditional stone for better future storage and quicker aging. These teas will vary from year to year due to differences in growing conditions. But they will all present you with an excellent appreciation of some of the finest, true big-arbor pu-erh tea available and the flavor profile in general presented by the Jinggu tea mountain where the tea originates.
Approximate location of Wenshan Village:
Get a look at that scenery! This is in Jinggu county and shows how rugged the terrain is. Remember that these teas grow in mountainous areas for the most part and are subjected to some rather tempestuous weather that can lead to roads getting washed out and even mudslides occurring. A tough existence for the locals but a very traditional one.
The difference between true purple bud pu-erh and the fake Zijuan and Zicha teas lies in the shape, fragrance, taste. Start by taking a close look at the particular tea leaf shape. Purple-bud tea has no tea hair or tea leaf saw on both sides of the leaf; the Zijuan and Zicha do not share these leaf characteristics. Also, this is a three-color tea; this means the fresh buds on the tea trees are purple, the dried tea is shiny dark, and the infused tea leaves are green for the first one or two years. This tea is an outstanding candidate for long-term storage. If the tea is aged for about 5 years, it will start to demonstrate an aged aroma with an even more sweet and thick taste. This one isn’t quite that age yet.
You can use either a glass cup or a gaiwan for best infusion of this tea. I used a bit more than the recommended 5-7 grams, but that’s fine since tea is a very personal experience. You can adjust things to suit you. Water temperature can be anywhere from 175° to 190°F. The higher the water temperature, the shorter the steeping time should be (30 seconds for the lower temperature, 10 seconds for the higher temperature, in this case). That’s for the first infusion of the leaves. After that, add about 15-20 seconds to the time. Tip: pour the water around the edge of the gaiwan, not on the tea leaves directly, to avoid burning the tender tea buds. Infusion times in a glass cup should be longer (1 minutes for the first, 3-4 minutes for the next ones) with a smaller amount (2-3 grams) of tea leaves used.
Even as a young tea, this purple bud demonstrates a wonderful flavor profile. There is a very full mouthfeel that lingers. The astringency is mild and very balanced and quickly disappears leaving a sweet aftertaste. I have never experienced this maturity in a raw pu-erh that is this young. This “early maturity” seems to be a general characteristic of the Summit brand teas.
Considering the rarity of this tea, I wanted to treasure every drop!