Camellia Sinensis‘ 2003 Orange Label is in new territory for me, being an aged CNNP shou cake. I’ve had another ripe puerh that was supposedly around this age, but, it was of questionable origin, so I’m curious to see if it stands up against this one. As I’ve said in the past, I don’t drink a tonne of shou and what I do drink tends to be on the younger side (in the 1-5 year range) and almost always “boutique” pressings, so I’m excited to see what this tea is all about!
Disclaimer – this tea came to me as a free sample from Camellia Sinensis.
The dry leaves smell just wonderful. Usually I’m not a fan of how shou smells, but this one has a soft and comforting aroma. There is nothing about them that is out of the ordinary, but they some how come off as more inviting and softer around the edges compared to many other ripes. After two rinses the leaves are giving me one note – just a strong damp wood aroma. It’s very clean smelling with absolutely no funk whatsoever.
For this session I am using 3.75 grams of leaf in my 55ml gaiwan, 100C water, and after two rinses I start with a five second infusion and increase by five seconds each steeping.
The first infusion tastes very much like the wet leaves smell – I am mostly getting damp wood with a touch of camphor. It’s incredibly smooth and has a nice oily body already. The aftertaste is a long lasting subtle sweetness. The second infusion really opens up, the woodiness has been bumped up several notches and is now joined by a black cherry-esque taste and a light dark chocolate bitterness. Immediately after you swallow you get an intense menthol-like cooling sensation, like taking the first chew of the black pack of Dentyne Ice. The sensation is ridiculously strong and very long lasting. For the third infusion everything is increased again, and I am getting a mouth watering, broth-like savoriness.
Infusions four and five both follow the same trend. There is a slight decrease in the woodiness and a heavy increase in both cherry flavour and the menthol feeling. The menthol effect is really stealing the show for me here, it’s absolutely bonkers. It comes on strong and powerful but also lasts an exceptionally long time as it trails away. I think the fifth infusion was the peak, as the sixth is all around a bit muted in comparison. For the sixth steeping, the fruitiness is suddenly completely gone, leaving behind just the woodiness and a light peaty flavour.
My suspicions were right, Orange Label is on its way out. The fade out is slow and consistent, with each of the remaining five infusions being just a bit less powerful than the one before. As everything else drops off, all that remains is an oaky flavour and slight sweetness.
I really, really enjoyed this tea. I’ve done absolutely no looking around to see if the asking price of $290 Canadian for a 357 gram cake is high, average or a steal but either way, it’s in a price bracket that no matter how much I like a tea I just can’t see myself splurging for a full cake. The sample packs come out to just under $1 CAD per gram though and I easily liked this as much as I have other buck-a-gram teas, so I can absolutely see myself picking up 25 or 50 grams of it in the near future.