Review: 2011 Ai Lao Mountain Wild Arbor Pu-erh Tea
Yunnan Sourcing’s Ai Lao Mountain Wild Arbor Pu-erh is the first in my series of pu-erh tastings as I learn more about this type of tea. I didn’t give this tea a tea score; the plan, instead, is to revisit this tea later after I’ve had more experience with pu-erhs to make an appropriate judgment. This tea is full-bodied and floral, with aromas of summer grass and sweet honey. It’s a very smooth and very drinkable tea which I enjoyed.
The tea description from the Yunnan Sourcing website:
Entirely first flush of spring 2011 material from high altitude Ai Lao mountain. The Ai Lao mountains peak out at about 3200 meters, making them second only to Wu Liang Shan as the highest mountains in Simao prefecture. The Ai Lao mountain range is in the county of Jingdong which borders Chu Xiong prefecture. This tea is grown in the area of Ai Lao known as Wang Jia village (王家村) at an altitude of 2200 meters making this some of the highest altitude pu-erh in existance. The trees are healthy 200 year old trees growing naturally on steep hillsides and ridges. These tea gardens are arguably some of the remotest tea gardens in all of Yunnan. Lack of roads and access has kept the environment of this area in good condition, mao cha prices are significantly lower than comparable Banna teas, making this an affordable yet.
The tea itself is aromatic with hints of orchid aroma (兰香), and a strong mouth-feel. This tea (in its young age) is more subtle than the Wu Liang Lan Xiang cake with less bitterness and a stronger aroma. The leaves are fatter and more burly than the Wu Liang tea. It features lots of hairy buds that make it somewhat resemble its close neighbor Jinggu mountain teas. Honey and grass essences are present in this thick soupy tea!
This tea was compressed in a small tea factory near Kunming where stone presses were used. Low temperature “baking” was used to dry these cakes after the compression process thus preserving their integrity! The cakes are wrapped in Dai Minority hand-made paper and then bundled into bamboo leaf “tongs” with seven cakes per tong.
Rinsed, and then steeped for 30-60 seconds with boiling water.
In a random selection, here is where I start my pu-erh tea tasting journey of ripe and raw pu-erhs. Thanks to Scott from Yunnan Sourcing for his earlier advice on what would be a good selection of pu-erh teas for a beginner such as myself to try.
The tea arrives in a small foil package, with a generous chunk of tea cake enclosed inside. The leaves are a mix ranging from large, curly chunks of older leaf and the smell, tender buds of new leaves. The smell is grassy and sweet, like summer condensed into an aromatic and perfumed punch. It’s not quite like a young green tea, because there is a slightly medicine, aged undertone to the smell.
The tea steeps to a bright, clear yellow. The aroma is vibrant and floral. It’s a good start on my pu-erh tea journey.
The tea soup is thick and full-bodied even after an initial 30 second steep. Its aromas are floral and slightly sweet. The steeped leaves unfurl into dark green and olive leaves. The smell of the steeped leaves has a hint of bitterness which isn’t detectable in the liquor.
With my limited experience, I enjoyed this tea quite a bit and the price is also very reasonable. The liquor is potent through a second and third steep. I found the second steep even better than the first, with the flavors blending into a smooth and enjoyable cup. The cup is invigorating, with a lingering tingle to the aftertaste which is cleansing to teh palate.
Pricing & Where to Buy
Pack Size: 20g sample, 1 cake, or 1 tong
Price per unit: $2.50 for a sample, $18 for a cake
This tea can be purchased on the Yunnan Sourcing website here.