INK JETis a shou (“ripe”) pu’er tea made of huangpian material from Youle shan (shan = mountain), Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, China, harvested in spring 2020 and fermented + pressed in summer 2022. Produced with material normally destined for huangpian raw pu'er (i.e. mature growth), this unique shou was first processed to huangpian: hand-plucked at a 1 leaf per pluck standard (pulling from further down the branch), sun-withered, stir-fried in woks to partially fix (an important phase that separates it from green tea, where tea is fully fixed), sun-dried, and then fermented in small batches of approximately 10 kg. The fermentation process for shou is relatively simple, but huangpian shou production represents a challenge, as the large, unshapely and discolored leaves are difficult to ferment to a consistent level. For this lot, the finished huangpian is piled into mounds, wet thoroughly, allowed to ferment (or “cook” / “ripen”) for 7 days, turned and tossed with pitchforks, then re-wet and ripened again each week over 6-8 weeks (slightly longer than traditional shou). Then the tea is spread over mats, dried, and sorted before resting through the fall and, finally, being pressed into these 100g cakes. Sounds like a lot, and it is—small lot shou is already a high skill art form, and to use huangpian material multiplies that.
Like with DIGESTIF, the raw material for INK JET comes from trees aged 90-150 years on Youle Shan, one of the 6 “old” tea mountains east of the Lancang river in Xishaungbanna. Known for spicy-sweet and herbaceous pu’er tea, material from this mountain is well-suited to shou, ideally producing rich notes of camphor, menthol, spice, wood, and herbs as the tea ages. We again asked for a relaxed compression to maximize airflow, for the express purpose of minimizing “wo dui”, or “wet piling”, a name for both the process of fermentation and a tasting quality that always exists on fresh productions of shou. Wo dui is often expressed as marine-like, moldy, or otherwise funky, and is generally a sign of very fresh (or poorly made) shou pu’er. This aspect is subtle in INK JET, as more of a "funk" than a "mold", and is more "mossy log" than baking spice. Shou enthusiasts will get it, but the takeaway is this tea, while good drinking now, is sure to smooth out and age gracefully into that pleasant forest floor quality it hints at.
The compression on this tea is middle-low, meaning ambient microbes in the air can access the tea and further its development—1 years’ time should see INK JET develop real richness and complexity. Steep small-format and be sure to flash rinse twice (wash with hot water and instantly pour off) for an experience that gives and gives, or grandpa for a solid 10 mugs' worth.
VINTAGE — SPRING '20 (FERMENTED + PRESSED SUMMER '22)