2015 Vanilla Obscura (香草之烏小堆子熟茶, Xiāng Cǎo Zhī Wū Xiǎo Duī Zi Shú Chá, "Darkness of Vanilla Small Pile Ripe Tea") - Looking for new Pu'er is a process in which we tend to focus on old trees or particular vintages based on some distinctive occurance, such as whether that year had a drought. The benefit thus of going to the mountain, even to places where we have established relationships, is that we have the opportunity to try things based on smell and recommendation which means the chance to find something that we did not know we were looking for. Vanilla Obscura happens to be one of these unexpectedly delicious and unique teas. We stumbled across this tea while working through tasting more than a dozen Shu Pu'ers that were scattered throughout our farmer, Li Shulin’s, warehouse. This 2014 small batch fermented or Xiǎo Duī Zi tea is neither old, nor is it from ancient trees, nor from a drought year...It is however sourced entirely from a single patch: the Douyi village patch at the summit of Nannuo mountain, peaking at around 1950 meters or around 6,400 feet. The Duoyi patch is regarded as having the sweetest tea on Nannuo Mountain. Additionally this tea was also fermented in a single pile resulting in a very rich, dark and earthy Pu'er with a distinctive, swaying buoyancy reminiscent of vanilla extract on the finish. The terroir or dì wèi 地味 ("Flavor of the Earth") of Duoyi village and the idiosyncrasies of its processing give this tea a distinctive flavor profile and fragrance.
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Vanilla Obscura is one of the first teas I ever tried from West China Tea and remains a common addition to my regular orders. I tend to prefer to brew it closer to 85 C for a longer period of time to coax out a thicker, soothing quality from the liquor. Although I wouldn't consider it the most unique or striking tea I've had, I always enjoy its soothing and grounding qualities.
I simply could not coax flavor out of this tea in the two sessions I tried. After a disappointing first session, I went all out the next day: 12 grams of tea in a 140 ml teapot. I used boiling water and worked up to 5 minute steepings. Like the first session (which was 6 grams in a 150 ml gaiwan), there was very little aroma (a faint hint of the namesake earthy vanilla) and almost no flavor. It really tasted like hot water. The tea liquor was fully opaque and almost black. Just... no flavor. Not sure what could have gone wrong.