Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Tea Review Tuesday - A Review of Vital Tea Leaf's Supreme Yunnan Pu'erh

As I sat in my kitchen, drinking tea, this afternoon, I suddenly had a realization. The cup in my hand contained one of my most favorite teas of all time, and I am not lightly giving a tea that label. Truly, this is one of the very few teas that has remained a constant in my evolving tea tastes, ever since I first discovered it. Not only the aroma and flavor, but also the strength, the versatility, and the value, drew me to drink it over and over again. Further in my realization was that I have never introduced or featured the tea shop from which this pu'erh comes. And yes, it is a pu'erh, my most favorite of tea varieties - and a shou pu'erh at that! Looking back in my archives, I found that I have once made mention of the company in a post about oatmeal (here) and once tagged them in a post on anti-decanting (here). My deepest apologies go out to them for not at all doing them justice and giving them the coverage they very much deserve.

Vital Tea Leaf is my favorite tea shop in the world.
From the moment I first stepped foot inside their doors on July 24, 2010, they have been held dear to my heart. Nowhere else have I found a place so friendly and willing to share, to teach, and to guide the experience of tea. Their tea selection is one of the largest I have ever seen. Certainly, one could find websites that sell more different teas, but Vital Leaf (as they are sometimes called) has them all in-store and available to try. And no, I do not mean just to smell (though smells are free, too); I mean that they will happily brew you a sample of any of their teas, so that you can know exactly what you are buying.

Vital Leaf primarily offers three different loose leaf pu'erh (though they have many cakes, too). Wood Bridge is about eight years old, Supreme Yunnan has been aged around twelve years, and Royal is fifteen. Today, though, we are going to talk about Supreme Yunnan. I have already hyped it a lot, so I am going to brew a cup. Supreme Yunnan brews very well using a gaiwan and short, frequent infusions, but it has the versatility to be steeped in more of a Western style, too. Pu'erh steeping is not a precise science, but I use about two teaspoons of loose leaf in my five ounce gaiwan. Since we are steeping the tea multiple times, future infusions can be varied in time to adjust the strength. Plus, I have found that every infusion reveals just a bit more about the tea, varying flavors and aromas slightly in an evolution that is usually only found with pu'erh. The water I use has been boiled and let cool for a minute or two, but I have also used just-boiled water to brew Supreme Yunnan without any adverse effects. After rinsing the leaves (a quick steep, where I pour the water over the leaves and immediately empty the liquid from the gaiwan), I start with a twenty or thirty second infusion. Like I said, the timing is not precise, and one tends to gain a "feel" for each pu'erh and the optimal times, based on aroma, color, and how the previous infusion was.

Supreme Yunnan smells dark. To me, the aroma holds the scent of wet leaves and damp earth, along with slightly lighter notes of something dry, almost sharp, but not unpleasant. I find the smell hard to describe, but it draws me in, making me want to keep breathing the aroma, whether of the cup, the dry leaf, or the wet leaves in my gaiwan.

Due to its age, Supreme Yunnan is not the smoothest shou pu'erh I have ever tasted. I am okay with that, and I actually love that aspect of this tea. This pu'erh has a strong earthiness that I have rarely found in other pu'erh of similar prices. The roughness in the flavor is not a bad thing, and there is still plenty of silken texture throughout the body of the tea. "Hearty" might be a good description for the feel I get from drinking this tea. That sounds weird, but the combination of flavors lends itself to something along those lines. A sip starts soft, seeping over the tongue. Then, still in the main body, the earthiness presents itself, a little rough around the edges. Deep mushroom notes appear and round the flavor. The aftertaste feels a lot like the body, albeit with a touch of smokiness. I wonder, if I did not notice that slight smokey flavor in the cup, or if it only came forth as a part of the aftertaste.

On my personal enjoyment scale, I would absolutely rate Supreme Yunnan a 5. I have no doubt that I will keep buying it for years to come. The price point makes it very accessible and an excellent value for a pu'erh of its quality. I highly recommend trying it, and - if you have the chance - I recommend visiting Vital Tea Leaf in San Francisco, California. Let them show you all the magic of tea that they have to offer.

Photo credit to Built from Ink and Tea.
Vital Tea Leaf's Supreme Yunnan Pu'erh is available from their website, here and in Vital Tea Leaf stores.
This review was unsolicited and uncompensated.
You can read more about my Personal Enjoyment Scale, here.
Text is copyright 2016, Built from Ink and Tea.


  1. Amazing post! Keep on writing...

  2. Thanks for the nice review. I look forward to my next trip to Vital Leaf, a really fantastic site to visit!