2012 Cumulus Shou Mei Bing (350g Bing) (茸雲壽眉餅, Róng Yún Shòu Méi Bǐng, "Fluffy Cloud Longevity Eyebrow Bing") - White tea bings are not pressed in their thousands the way that factory Pu'er cakes are. Often we will find one exceptional vintage and after a few months to a year it will be sold out, never to be seen again. White tea farmers do not tend to hold onto substantial quantities of stock for very long, and so for vintage white tea we rely on Li Yan Mei, a Fuding-based tea farmer in her own right, who is also an accomplished collector and curator of aged white tea cakes by other farmers. A native of Xiguang Village in Fuding, her tea farming family has long-standing ties with the other tea farmers in the area, giving her unparalleled access to a wide variety of farm-direct white teas. She acquires the best of each year and ages them in a humidity- and temperature-controlled cedar-lined room. Many of our favorite white tea cakes over the years have come from her collection, ephemeral runs of a few dozen (I try to hang onto one or two from each year). Generally, my strategy is to acquire as many of an exceptional vintage as I can, and I’ll usually aim for one either 2 or 6 years old. This is because the value of Fuding white tea bings goes up in years 3 and 7, as illustrated by the idiom “One year tea, three years medicine, seven years treasure.” Cumulus is a full, fluffy, well-aged Shou Mei bing that I acquired in 2018, when it was 6 years old. It produces a deep red-brown liquor with a raisin-y body and the honey sweetness that is the hallmark of good aged white tea, with a touch of woody and floral notes. Another classic, soon to go the way of things - grab one while you can and enjoy it for years to come.
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This tea took me back at least 30 years to rural Brazil, ten years old, sitting behind the barn at my grandmother's dairy farm, chewing on pieces of sugar cane she would cut for me. They were for mixing with the hay, allegedly to add sweetness to the milk. Fresh sugar cane is all I can think of with this tea - rich and sweet and syrupy, but also clean and crisp. It has a very gentle and subdued energy, and is an excellent tea for later in the day. I'm very tempted to buy a second bing.