2012 Baotang from Essence of Tea is a bit of an online favourite from what I have seen. This $138 USD, 400 gram cake of Mensong material frequently comes up if you are searching around for “must tries” from Essence of Tea. EoT is a vendor that I have been wanting to get into for some time but for one reason or another have never gotten around to placing an order. This sample came to me from a tea friend, the same one who sent me White2Tea’s Pin.
This sample came to me mostly broken up so I have no insight into how the cake is pressed. The dry leaves have a strong, overpowering earthy aroma. I am getting a distinct mulch smell with a hay background. After a rinse the leaves smell big and rich, with the clearest notes being cocoa and roasted nuts.
For this session I am using 90°C water, my 55ml gaiwan and 3.65 grams of tea. The leaves got one rinse then infusions start at five seconds that increase by five for each steeping.
The first few infusions of this tea are bold in feeling but a bit weak in flavour. It’s bitter and there is an upfront smokiness that grabs onto your mouth and throat and grows for many minutes. My tongue has an interesting tingling feeling and the tea is giving me a full body warmth. The taste is hard to pick out, with the only notes I can identify with certainty being smoke, tobacco and toasted almonds. I can enjoy a smokey sheng, but I wouldn’t exactly classify this as a nice smokey taste in the background. It’s right in your face and is on the harsher, more acrid side. The length of the aftertaste is impressive and it jumps between bitter and sweet. The sweetness remains in the front of your mouth while the bitter and smokey flavours hit you in the back of the throat.
The middle steeps see some clarity in the taste. The toasted almond flavour is taking centre stage, and I am also getting figs, sandalwood and leather. The smoke taste builds through infusions four and five before suddenly disappearing at the sixth. The last infusion of this section was very smooth and I am tasting some new fruity notes.
The less favourable notes from the session are entirely gone now and don’t return. Over the remaining infusions plum becomes the main note, but I am still tasting lots of what I got from infusions four through six – the leathery and woody tastes are still strong, as is the fig note. The length of the aftertaste continues to grow, as do the body warming and tongue tingling sensations. The tenth infusion starts to see a decline in flavour, and the tea fades slowly until around the fifteenth.
2012 EoT Baotang was a challenging session for me and by the end of it I’m not entirely sure where I stand. I love the sensations but the taste for the first half of the session really isn’t my thing. I am a firm believer the best tea is the one that you enjoy the most, but there are also objective qualities that make a tea “good” and “bad.” You can love a bad tea or hate a great tea, and there isn’t anything wrong with that, but I think it’s important to recognize that it’s not entirely subjective. I haven’t drank enough of this style of tea to know if this is a good tea that I dislike or a lesser quality tea that I’m on the mark with. I did notice a good amount of burnt bits on the tea leaves which is a negative mark, but my sample size was small enough that it’s quite possible I got a weird bit of the cake. Looking around online it seems like some people note this while many don’t, so maybe it’s fair to say that the processing was inconsistent.
While I didn’t love my time with this tea, I’m not writing it off yet. I plan on ordering a 25 gram sample of Baotang from Essence of Tea and coming back to it in six months to a year once I have tried a wider range of puerhs to see how I feel about it then.